Choice’s new place to stay


Stephen P. Joyce, president and chief executive of Choice Hotels International, visits the lobby of the hotel company’s new headquarters in Rockville as construction wraps up. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

The view from Stephen P. Joyce’s office on Columbia Pike in Silver Spring looks down across six lanes of traffic onto an auto repair shop, a 29 Convenience Mart, a Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and a California Tortilla that is one of the only places nearby to eat lunch.

How do you get there? “Run,” Joyce said.

Joyce, the chief executive of Choice Hotels, said the company has leased space in the building for more than 30 years, a location that served it well as it assembled a franchise empire that includes 11 brands such as Comfort Inn, Quality Inn and Econo Lodge.

But now, the New Carrollton native and former Marriott executive said it is time for the franchiser to burnish its image. It didn’t help, he said, that the bland, suburban headquarters space did little to combat a snarky critique sometimes made of the company’s hotels — that they are suitable only for bargain hunters. Or that visiting business partners often had to stay miles away at a Comfort Inn off Interstate 270.

This week, Choice relocates to newly built headquarters at Rockville Town Center that Joyce says will symbolize the company’s new focus on technology and innovation. Fashioned after the company’s IT headquarters in Phoenix, the 190,000-square-foot building features open floor plans to encourage collaboration and is designed to meet environmental standards under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings system.

It’s also in a more accessible location. “I won’t say people are skipping to the new office, but it will be nice to be in a building where the heating and air conditioning works,” he said.

The move is just one of the more visible changes at Choice. In his five years at the helm, Joyce has expanded two higher-end chains, Cambria Suites and Ascend. He launched mobile and iPad tablet applications. Last year Choice invested, along with five other hotel companies, in Roomkey.com, a site aimed at competing with Expedia.com and the like. Last week, he introduced SkyTouch Hotel, a property and reservation management software that Choice plans to license to other hotel operators and owners.

The new office digs are next door to a 140-room Cambria Suites hotel, which will give Joyce’s guests a bed nearby with a brand he is looking to show off, once the hotel is built. Choice is pushing Cambria Suites into more urban markets, including New York City and the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest D.C., where Cambria plans to open as part of the mixed-use City Market at O.

When Joyce began looking for new space, he thought it would be a no-brainer that the company would remain in Montgomery County, in part because of the long-time ties of businessman Stewart Bainum. He helped found what became Choice in the 1960s, and members of his family and their partners still control 51.95 percent of the company’s common stock. Stewart Bainum Jr. has been chairman of the board for more than 23 years.

When it came time to move, Joyce said governors from three states — Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut — came at the company with subsidy offers aimed at luring Choice and its more than 400 jobs.

The state, county and city of Rockville ultimately provided a package of $4.2 million in subsidies to enable the Rockville move.

Joyce spent 26 years at Marriott, and was responsible for growing the company’s hotel brands worldwide, before replacing Charles A. Ledsinger Jr. as chief executive at Choice.

Fans of the realty show “Undercover Boss” may recall seeing the perspiring executive scrub a pool, change bed sheets and clean the toilets at two of his Comfort Suites hotels. He says the appearance might have been worth $80 million in publicity, as it drove increases in reservations, job applications and the company’s stock price.

Capital Business staff writer Abha Bhattarai contributed to this story.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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